Mora Ice Creamery goes national with new stores
June 24, 2011 · Updated 1:59 PM
Mora connoisseurs can no longer lay exclusive claim on island favorite Swiss Chocolate or the rich Sabayon.
Argentinean co-owners Ana Orselli and Jerry Perez, who’ve grown their artisan, old-fashioned ice cream business from their Bainbridge kitchen. have quietly geared up for expansion and are ready to announce that Mora Ice Creamery is going national.
The husband and wife duo plan to ramp up production at their Miller Road factory to supply enough ice cream for 20 to 25 new locations. They’ve tackled the legal hurdles required for a franchise, and are now looking for investors ready to take their sweet treat to the rest of the continental U.S.
The company isn’t far out of its infancy, celebrating its seventh birthday this September, and already has three Puget Sound locations. The Madrone Lane shop opened in 2006, followed by a Kingston opening in 2009 and a Poulsbo shop in April 2010.
Moving beyond familiar waters was always a part of the plan. Co-owner Ana Orselli, credits her husband and partner Jerry Perez with his methodical business process to “think big” from the beginning.
“Every time I made something in the kitchen, a flavor I just thought was magnificent, Jerry would ask me if I could make it the same exact way a hundred times. Oh, he makes me so tired,” laughed Orselli. “He is business, I’m about art, flavor, beauty. You didn’t want to be in our kitchen that day.”
What they do share is a passion for their work. It’s a passion they’ve taken from their hometown of Buenos Aires and infused into their flavors. Though there have been hiccups along the way, they feel the product is perfected and their business is ready for the next level.
Today they have $300,000 in investor support and are looking for another $800,000, which will provide the working capital to acquire the equipment and build the marketing plan.
Simultaneously, Mora will begin looking for individual franchisees who will make their personal investments in stores around the country.
The team has slowly acquired the factory space to expand, and will keep production on the island. They aren’t sure yet how many new employees they will need to hire.
When both Perez and Orselli talk about their philosophy they often point to fellow Northwest-grown enterprise Starbucks, and the humble beginnings Howard Schultz cultivated to reach the global company it is today. Starbucks, Perez explained, created a brand that connects people with a place to meet, and branded Starbucks as an intrinsic experience paid for with a cup.
Mora wants that same experience for ice cream.
“The taste of ice cream brings back memories and reaches to the inner child,” said Orselli. “We didn’t want bubble gum flavors because our ice cream isn’t just for kids, it’s an experience for everyone.”
Orselli and Perez have already gone to close family and friends for investments, and are ready to see if the Bainbridge community wants to join in the plans to expand.
“Bainbridge already owns Mora. They took us in as family, and we won’t forget that,” said Orselli. “With Bainbridge, we don’t have to explain our business [because] they know it works,” Perez added.
Perez is bursting with ideas when he starts talking about the future. When things get rolling he sees wholesale accounts, self-serve frozen yogurt bars and lines of chocolates and desserts.
Orselli, just puts her hand to her forehead. “Oh Jerry, I’m tired. You dream big.”
Fantasies of expansion are still far away for many small, local businesses still trying to dig out of a recession. But Mora’s ice cream isn’t something people cut out when budgets are tight.
“If people have to put off the flat screen or the vacation they will, but if you want to go out for a night and experience a special treat, then people still came to Mora,” said Orselli. “So we knew that if we can make it here, even in a recession, even in a city that gets 300 days without sun, then we can make it anywhere.”
Just where they choose to open shop will be a result of a laborious match-making process. The first Mora location in the Bellevue Square Mall was closed in 2007 after three years of operation.
“In Bellevue we made a mistake because a mall is not part of a community,” said Perez.
The right location in the right community will be critical, they say.
The plan is to concentrate in one geographic region, most likely with warm weather.
Mora often fields emails and calls from folks pressing for a Mora in their hometown. Perez says they will go where the perfect opportunity arises.
“Though just taking a big check from anywhere sounds great in theory, we can’t risk anything less than a perfect candidate because a mistake can destroy the brand,” said Perez.
Franchisee owners won’t have any trouble emulating the distinctive Mora “look and feel” with the help of a contract and manual several inches thick.
Everything from the counter to the colors to the spoons are detailed, trademarked and required. Also, the new operators will get trained at the flagship Bainbridge store.
No one has to worry about a change in the distinct Mora taste.
The recipes are one thing that no one gets to see, primarily because the flavors that now don glossy magazines from Sunset Magazine to an Alaska Airlines seatback publication, didn’t come without due toil and sweat.
When asked how they were concocted, Orselli has a simple answer.
“We fought. We fought over dinner, the blender and the kitchen. In the end he always realizes I’m right,” said Orselli with a smile.